A focus on education in rural areas, training more family physicians, and adequate resources at hospitals to attract specialists are ways to increase physician recruitment and retention in Central Alberta, says the medical director with Central Zone Alberta Health Services.
Dr. Evan Lundall said doctors who grew up in rural areas are four times more likely to practice in a regional or rural area compared to doctors who grew up in cities.
“There needs to be more advocacy for increasing the number of rural kids who go to medical schools,” Lundall told the David Thompson Health Advisory Council on Wednesday.
It starts with improving education in rural areas so a high school student in a small community can compete against a student who completed an international baccalaureate in Edmonton, he said.
A government-funded educational process to increase the educational standards in rural areas could even out the playing field, he said.
But communities must also have something to offer doctors. They are professionals who are in demand everywhere and have their pick of jobs, Lundall said.
“Each community has to compete on its own merits in the open market.”
“(Doctors) want to locate where they won’t feel isolated. They want to be with a group of physicians, where their lifestyle is reasonable. They want to be closer to recreational facilities, educational opportunities.”
Lundall remains optimistic that Central Alberta can meet the challenges.
“Some days I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle across the zone. But my numbers seem to suggest we’re sort of even in terms of our loss of physicians and our recruitment.”